Belfast Telegraph

Colum Eastwood: SDLP won't be taking any lectures on violence from Gregory Campbell

By Gareth Cross

Colum Eastwood has said he won't be taking any lectures from DUP MP Gregory Campbell after he called on the SDLP leader to ensure the name of a controversial Newry park would be changed.

Mr Campbell called on the SDLP leader to guarantee that the party would work to have the name of the Raymond McCreesh Park in Ballybot changed.

A challenge to change the name of the controversial park was defeated in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council on Monday night.

Instead councillors passed an amendment to wait until a process - agreed in December - concludes on what should happen to the park's name.

Unionist councillors stormed out of the meeting in protest.

SDLP leader Eastwood hit back at the criticism from Mr Campbell, saying his party "won't take any lectures" on the glorification of violence, and while the SDLP "was busy building our peace, Gregory and the DUP were busy building division".

"Since entering politics I have always been committed to the unfinished job of reconciliation on this island, sadly I can't say the same for Gregory Campbell," he said.

Mr Eastwood said the SDLP would always oppose naming public spaces against those involved in violence.

"The SDLP does not support the naming of public spaces after those involved in the violence of the past. This is our party policy and it was unanimously re-affirmed at our conference last weekend. This week, the party has repeatedly clarified that our elected representatives are expected to vote in accordance with this party policy," he said.

"There are no exceptions to that party policy, it applies equally whether in Belfast, Newry, Derry or Enniskillen."

Earlier, East Londonderry MP Campbell called on SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood to reassure victims of IRA terrorism that his party will not allow any outcome to the Raymond McCreesh Park dispute which sees the current name continue.

“SDLP Councillors failed to take the opportunity this week to enact the wish of their party conference that this public space should not be named in honour of an IRA terrorist," he said.

"Comments from the party following this shameful action have raised as many questions as it answers.

There is a need for Colum Eastwood to now provide clarity and certainty as to where his party stands. There has been inference by the SDLP that they will allow the name to remain by ‘outsourcing’ the problem. This could see the park disposed of, through transfer or sale to another group with the name remaining in place.

"To resolve this, Colum Eastwood must answer one simple question: Will the SDLP support any proposal to dispose of McCreesh Park by Newry, Mourne and Down Council if the facility retains its current name, even under the management of an outside organisation?”

He said that the park's name must be changed even if the park is transferred or sold away from the council.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP had already voted to leave the name in place until a review of council playgrounds is carried out later this year with the potential of ownership being transferred to the Ballybot community.

When the park was first named, several SDLP councillors on the former Newry and Mourne Council supported the McCreesh name.

It was criticised by the SDLP's senior leadership at the time and again in 2015 when only one member of the party attended a vote to change the name and abstained.

McCreesh, from Camlough in Armagh, was arrested in possession of a rifle used in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre killings when he was captured later that year.

10 people were killed in the attack.

McCreesh was one of seven IRA prisoners who died in the 1981 Maze Prison hunger strikes.

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